The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Rapid Melting of Arctic Permafrost Shocks Scientists
The Canadian Arctic is raising alarm bells for climate scientists. The permafrost there is thawing 70 years earlier than expected, a research team discovered, according to Reuters. It is the latest indication that the global climate crisis is ramping up faster than expected.
The surface, which was frozen is now sinking and sprinkled with melt ponds. A series of unusually warm summers destabilized the upper layers of giant underground ice blocks that had been frozen for millennia. That triggered a spike in melting rates at three research sites, even though ground temperatures remained low. The melt has caused ponds and knolls to form. Conventional wisdom said the permafrost would remain until at least 2090, according to the Independent.
"What we saw was amazing," said Vladimir E. Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, as Reuters reported. "It's an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years."
Romanovsky and his colleagues used a modified propeller plane to visit three exceptionally remote islands in the Canadian Arctic, including an abandoned Cold War-era radar base more than 185 miles away from the nearest inhabited settlement, according to Reuters.
The research team analyzed data gathered from 2003 to 2016 and published their findings last week in Geophysical Research Letters. The scientists recorded permafrost thawing depths that were not expected until average temperatures reached the level that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted in one of its moderate climate change models — a level predicted for after 2090, according to LiveScience.
Mould Bay on Prince Patrick Island showed the most melting, according to the study. The permafrost thawing there was 240 percent higher than historic levels and the ground sank three feet over the 12-year research period, as the Independent reported.
"We were astounded that this system responded so quickly to the higher air temperatures," said Louise Farquharson, a co-author of the study, as LiveScience reported.
When the scientists arrived at the research site, they surveyed a landscape completely different and unrecognizable from the icy arctic terrain they studied a decade earlier. The ice had vanished and left a landscape pocked with ridges of waist-high depressions and ponds known as thermokarst, according to Reuters. Vegetation had started to flourish in once sparse pockets of land. Thermokarst alters ecosystems and waterways. It invites new plant growth, disrupts stable nutrient cycles and it lets sediment settle in streambeds, according to LiveScience.
"We had this flat terrain when we started monitoring," Farquharson told LiveScience. "In 10 or so years, we saw the landscape transform."
Romanovsky told Reuters the scene had reminded him of the aftermath of a bombardment.
The melting permafrost threatens to accelerate the global climate crisis. When it thaws, it releases carbon dioxide and other trapped greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which raises temperatures and accelerates an endless cycle of permafrost melt.
"It's a canary in the coalmine," said Farquharson, as Reuters reported. "It's very likely that this phenomenon is affecting a much more extensive region and that's what we're going to look at next."
- We're Already Feeling the Consequences of Thawing Permafrost ›
- Future - The poisons released by melting Arctic ice - BBC ›
- Unexpected future boost of methane possible from Arctic permafrost ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
John Paul Stevens, the retired Supreme Court Justice who wrote the opinion granting environmental agencies the power to regulate greenhouse gases, died Tuesday at the age of 99. His decision gave the U.S. government important legal tools for fighting the climate crisis.
By Elliott Negin
On July 8, President Trump hosted a White House event to unabashedly tout his truly abysmal environmental record. The following day, coincidentally, marked the one-year anniversary of Andrew Wheeler at the helm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), first as acting administrator and then as administrator after the Senate confirmed him in late February.
By Tara Lohan
If you're a lover of wilderness, wildlife, the American West and the public lands on which they all depend, then journalist Christopher Ketcham's new book is required — if depressing — reading.
World hunger is on the rise for the third consecutive year after decades of decline, a new United Nations (UN) report says. The climate crisis ranks alongside conflict as the top cause of food shortages that force more than 821 million people worldwide to experience chronic hunger. That number includes more than 150 million children whose growth is stunted due to a lack of food.
By Adrienne L. Hollis
Because extreme heat is one of the deadliest weather hazards we currently face, Union of Concerned Scientist's Killer Heat Report for the U.S. is the most important document I have read. It is a veritable wake up call for all of us. It is timely, eye-opening, transparent and factual and it deals with the stark reality of our future if we do not make changes quickly (think yesterday). It is important to ensure that we all understand it. Here are 10 terms that really help drive home the messages in the heat report and help us understand the ramifications of inaction.
Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Senate Republican who has been a close ally of Donald Trump, did not mince words last week on the climate crisis and what he thinks the president needs to do about it.
By Marlene Cimons
Kyle Rosenblad was hiking a steep mountain on the island of Maui in the summer of 2015 when he noticed a ruggedly beautiful tree species scattered around the landscape. Curious, and wondering what they were, he took some photographs and showed them to a friend. They were Bermuda cedars, a species native to the island of Bermuda, first planted on Maui in the early 1900s.